Tag Archives: NGV

Under the influence

“His flesh turns to viscid, transparent jelly that drifts away in green mist, unveiling a monster black centipede. Waves of unknown stench fill the room, searing the lungs, grabbing the stomach…”           William Burroughs Naked Lunch

Keith Haring Untitled 1983 © Keith Haring Foundation

Both Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat were influenced by William Burroughs; their shared interest in semiotics and proximity in the NYC art scene made it almost inevitable that they would meet. Haring was a friend of Burroughs, the invite-Keith-around-to-dinner-kind of friend and collaborate on a couple of books, as opposed to a ‘Facebook friend’. So Burroughs influence on Haring is extensive from Haring’s distinctive hieroglyphic iconography to his, not well known, cut up collages and performance poetry.

‘Lick Fat Boys’ by Haring owes much to works, in film and audio, by Burroughs and Brion Gysin, e.g. “Recalling All Active Agents” In these works words are rearranged and reordered to create new meanings. Haring’s cut-up collages of text and images look very similar to Burroughs’s pages of cut-ups with collage elements.

“Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” at the NGV documents this influence; including a list of people from Basquiat with Burroughs along with Prince, David Lynch and Godard (Burroughs is misspelt ‘Burrows’).

Although the exhibition documents Burroughs influence it then ignores it continuing to ignore it when it comes to interpreting the work. It describes the personal computer headed centipedes in Haring’s paintings as “caterpillars”. It is not a correct description for several reasons. Centipedes are used in many of Burroughs’s novels including Naked Lunch as a symbol of self-centred evil whereas caterpillars are not used as symbols of evil in anyone’s iconography. Centipedes are distinguished by having one set of legs for each segment of body, which is what is shown in Haring’s images even though they and all species of centipede don’t have a hundred legs. Finally, caterpillars don’t walk, they crawl, grasping on with their prolegs to pull their body forward until it arches; an iconic movement not depicted by Haring.

Keith Haring Untitled 1982 © Keith Haring Foundation

Haring and Basquiat had an influence on Australian art, especially its street art. The walls that Haring painted are still visible in Melbourne (see my blog post). His simple style of line drawn figures is not inimitable but few do. There is only a couple of Melbourne street artist openly and obviously influenced by Haring – Ero and Civil. Although the influence of Haring, in particular his dogs, on the iconography of clothing manufacturer Mambo has yet to be fully explored; the first appearance of the Mambo’s farting dog occurred in 1984 the same year that Haring visited Australia.

The influence of Basquiat’s visual style is even wider and more varied; from the work of street-artists from Anthony Lister to many contemporary/non-street artists.

How important is influence? Influence has so often been seen as a positive attribute however each iteration of this style weakens the effect, until it becomes bland and ordinary.

Civil, detail of mural, Brunswick

This is the second of a series of posts about the “Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” at the NGV International. To read the first post. (Thanks to the NGV for the tickets to the exhibition and access to media photographs.)


Haring/Basquiat @ NGV

“Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” at the NGV International is the world premiere exhibition bringing together two NYC artists from the 1980s. There are deeper connections than being in the same city, at the same time (both were raised Catholic and identified as men): both were known their work on the streets and for their drawn lines. Both are great artists who knew each other, drew each other, collaborated with each other. And yet are very different people and artists.

Recreation of Haring’s waterwall painting from 1984

“Crossing Lines” is a large exhibition with over 200 works by the two artists along with many documents, photographs and any other things that explain the NYC art scene that they inhabited. There are important major paintings from both artists are shown but it the early work that exhibition excels (at the same time causing it to jump around both artist’s short lives). For two artists with tragically short lives the exhibition does jump around in time a bit getting work to fit into themes.

It was great to see some very early work from off the street, including a panel where they both added their already iconic images: Haring’s dog and baby and Basquiat’s crown. There are more street art collaborations with Kenny Scharf, Fab 5 Freddy and LAII.

detail of street work featuring both Haring and Basquiat

It is a big exhibition for artists two artists with limited iconographies but there is more variety that I expected. To accompany this variety there is a great variety of exhibition spaces, along with large and small, there is music and silence and types of light (the UV light room with fluorescent colours). It is an exhibition that I could dance to. What to do with the long corridors that connects the galleries is always a problem for the NGV curators but this time they make it work with videos and enlarged photos.

A small local complaint that there was no any mention of a Haring visit to Melbourne in 1984 and that his work is still on its walls. (See my blog post.) The stolen, and later returned, door with his iconic radiant baby from the wall of the Collingwood Tech was on exhibition but without any explanation.

I had a lot of fun at the exhibition and it has given me a lot to think about, bringing together thoughts that have been going around in my brain since the 1980s. So I will be writing a series of posts about it: under the influence. (Thanks to the NGV for the tickets to the exhibition and access to media photographs)

Exhibition wall with the door from the Collingwood Tech

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What ever happened to the idea of the neo-renaissance artist in the 1970s and 80s? The artist who worked across media a diverse as paint and film, music and fashion. It wasn’t just Haring and Basquiat who worked in art, fashion and music. There were multiple versions of this idea, the prime example being Andy Warhol as photographer, film maker and the Velvet Underground’s producer.

It is about a way of life rather than a professional approach. A hiphop/punk utopia with the total merger of art, politics and life; painting in the afternoon and spinning records at night. This diversity of practice is so different from many current contemporary artists who are often focused on a single media and subject.


Coz you’re a bore

When I saw the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao in 2000 I should have been paying more attention to “The Art of the Motorcycle”. The exhibition in the main hall was an exhibition of motorcycles, not modified or customised, just a showroom display. I thought that I was seeing the triumph of corporate design culture over art. Rather this is not about a capitulation of institutional gallery’s reputation that exposes their lack of any educational, aesthetic and moral integrity. The exhibition summed up the attitude of the institution; anything to get the corporate sponsorship, anything to get people through the door.

Different art galleries will tend to exhibit different types of art depending on their objective (see my post on types of art galleries). Some of the crypto-objective of the NGV are now more obvious from its choice of exhibitions — it is all about marketing.

The NGV exists as a high end venue, to sell fashion, market cars (it is the ultimate car showroom in Melbourne), and, most importantly, to be a tourist attraction for the city. The infotainment in a spectacular location to be rented out for corporate and wedding receptions. As such it is little different from the MCG or Flemington Race Course.

The visual arts, like music, is a vast field of styles, techniques and purposes in which there is everything from advertising jingles to some of best things made by humans. There are works that are very popular and make large amounts of money. There are works that can help sell products or make someone look majestic or simply display wealth. High end art can be a manufactured product, the twenty-first century equivalent to handmade lace, very expensive and serving no purpose other than decoration and status. And without political and critical thought the artist remains a decorator for plutocrats.

Granted that there are decorators for plutocrats but that doesn’t mean that they should be exhibited at the NGV or that I should bother to write about them. Selling a lot of product for a lot of money should not be the entry qualification.

I don’t write about art because it is popular or expensive but because there is something worth writing about. So I won’t be writing about any of David Bromley’s, Ken Done’s or KAWS exhibitions. There are a lot of artists whose exhibitions I won’t bother to even attend because the content, aesthetics, style and meaning of their art is so obvious that it bores me. I understand that it doesn’t bore everyone and that some people might want it. However, just because there are is a lot of fans or a lot of money doesn’t make the art any more interesting.


Reko and Turbo, from the street to the NGV

“From Bark to Neon: Indigenous Art from the NGV Collection” at the NGV in Federation Square includes works by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Rover Thomas, Emily Kam Kngwarray in the collection. But I want to focus on two local artists in the exhibition who both have street backgrounds: Reko Rennie and Trevor Turbo Brown.

Blek le Rat, Reko Rennie, Drew Funk, Reko Rennie et. al. in Hoiser Lane & on the internet.

Part of their street background both embraced one of the four elements of hip hop; for Reko it was writing graffiti and for Turbo, breakdancing.

Reko Rennie has a neon crown in his Regalia 2013; as in crown that a top graffiti writer would put a crown above their tag. I first saw his work at the Melbourne Stencil Festival in 2008, a magnificent multi-layer stencil of a red kangaroo. Later I saw the same stencil sprayed on a wall in Hosier Lane alongside Blek Le Rat and Stormie Mills. I didn’t know that he was Kamilaroi all I knew is that he was amongst the best street artists in Melbourne. Many street artists were later represented by commercial art galleries but Reko Rennie navigated this transition better than most. In a few years he had work in the NGV’s collection was making public art. Rennie’s public art includes his Neon Natives, 2011 in Cocker Alley for the City of Melbourne’s Laneway Commissions and his Murri Totems, 2012 outside of the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science building.

Trevor Turbo Brown, Getting their photo taken by tourists, 2007

The late Trevor Turbo Brown was a Latje Latje man from Mildura and the winner of the 2012 Victorian Deadly Art Award. Turbo was a self-taught, outsider artist who had multiple disadvantages amongst them homelessness and an intellectual disability. Turbo had a clear relationship to the street. He got his nickname, ‘Turbo’ breakdancing on the streets in the 1980s and 90s. One day I ran into him Brunswick trying to sell his art. The NGV has three new acquisitions of Turbo’s paintings on exhibition; they acquired some of the best Turbo paintings that I’ve seen, there is a genuine sense of humour his dingos smiling and photobombing for the tourists. Dingos were very significant to Turbo for many reasons.

Hip hop and the street are now part of the greater cultural mix that influences urban Indigenous art in Melbourne.


Wegman’s dogs

“Sit! Stay! Stay Man Ray!” (Not Man Ray, the artist, but Man Ray, William Wegman’s first Weimaraner dog.) “William Wegman: Being Human” is a survey exhibition of thirty years of photographic work at the NGV International. Wegman’s photographs combine two things that he enjoys: art history and Weimaraner dogs. Wegman’s Weimaraner dogs are his willing, loyal and obedient muse.

William Wegman, On base, 2007

Does the dog’s expression change when it is wearing a wig or standing on a box? Or, am I just projecting my perception of emotions onto the dog? What are his dogs thinking when he photographs them? As Wittgenstein wrote: “If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.” Meaning that the life of another animal is structured so differently to our own that even a shared language would not be common ground for communication. Wegman believes that his second dog Fay Ray had pride in her work, her balance and poise; maybe she did, maybe she just want to please him. One thing that I am sure about that they are not thinking about is art history or how it can be funny. And Wegman’s photographs are funny and his dogs are the ultimate deadpan-looking ‘straight man’ in this routine.

If we have learnt anything from the social media it is that pet photographs dominate, so it is not surprising that Wegman’s photographs are popular. Wegman has been photographing his dog since 1970, long before social media. Large format Polaroids create a unique photographic print, the complete opposite of digital photography.

I’m not into dogs, I am more of a cat guy and I not into putting clothes on animals. I’m not sure if this simply an aesthetic choice, or a matter of taste, but that it might reflect deeper ethical and existential considerations. So there is too much Cindy Sherman and not enough Sol LeWitt in this exhibition for my taste, however, I still enjoyed looking at Wegman’s light-hearted take on art history and his dogs.


Opie @ NGV

Julian Opie’s art is cool. It seems essential to his aesthetic. Feeding back from his cool is Opie’s association with pop music. He did the cover the of Blur: the best of (2000) and LED images for U2’s Vertigo world tour (2006).

Julian Opie, Walking in Melbourne 1, 2018

Julian Opie, Walking in Melbourne 1, 2018

There isn’t much to his images. Each has been reduced to the essential lines and shapes. The images are refined to minimise details. They are refined again in their manufacturing. Vinyl on wooden stretcher or laser cut anodised aluminium; processes that doesn’t leave a trace of the human hand.

From the LED displays of people walking in the forecourt to the fish swim across the NGV’s water wall entrance; the self-titled Opie exhibition leads the visitor into the two galleries of his work and onto the NGV Kids part. The NGV Kids interactive part was designed in collaboration with Opie; do your own portrait in the style of…

Julian Opie, View of Moon over Manatsuru peninsula, 2007

Julian Opie, View of Moon over Manatsuru peninsula, 2007

In the exhibition there is a respectful bow to Japanese art in his View of Moon over Manatsuru peninsula, 2007. Two LCD screens replace the traditional byōbu folding screens of rice paper but the format of the composition is the same. The lights reflected on the rippling water, the flashing lights of a plane flying in the star light sky, the moon still in the sky. There is something cool about refining kitsch lighting-feature landscapes; falling just short of being vacuous, insipid and vapid is cool.

Who are these people walking, running, jogging, dancing in Opie’s art? Faime, Marrie Teresa, Bruce and Sara? …Oh, and there is Julian in a t-shirt. There are two works titled: Walking in Melbourne 2018. I do a lot of walking in Melbourne; maybe I could be one of the people in the picture, maybe not.

The people are the same as Opie’s sheep or minnows. His landscapes, even when of a specific location, are generic enough to be anywhere. It is not great art but they are cool.


Louise Paramor @ NGV

I first saw a sculpture by Louise Paramor when her Noble ape was exhibited in Melbourne Now 2013; it is currently installed in the garden at the back of NGV International. Other people might know her from her Panorama Station sculpture beside the freeway in Carrum Downs. Then I saw Paramor’s sculpture, Ursa Major being installed in Federation Square for the Melbourne Prize 2014. I hadn’t seen any of her previous twenty or so years of exhibiting sculpture.

Louis Paramor

Louis Paramor, Noble ape, fiberglass, plastic and steel

Currently the NGV is exhibiting Paramor in two large spaces on the third floor of the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with a specially commissioned installation of new paper sculptures and a survey of her recent colourful plastic assemblages.

Palace of the Republic is a series of massive paper sculptures. Honeycomb paper decorations on a scale that will leave you awestruck. It is a reference Paramor’s earlier artistic practice before she started to collage found plastic objects.

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Louis Paramor, Palace of the Republic, paper, steel, aluminium and plywood

Unlike the personal art of Del Kathryn Barton, exhibited on the same floor to the Potter Centre, Paramor’s sculptures inspires no interest in the artist. There is nothing that I can tell you about her that will help you make any more sense of her art, so I will tell you nothing. Likewise you don’t need to know the history of art, anything of biochemistry or French to make sense of her art. Partially because her art makes little sense; her sculptures are cool and humorous and I know this by the smile that they grew on my face when I saw them.

A curator explains them noting that they “combine formal concerns with a pop-inspired sensibility.” That is arranging found plastic in an asymmetrical way makes them look silly and funky.

Studies for Boomtown is a series of maquettes for sculptures that demonstrate Paramor’s seemingly inexhaustible creativity. Perhaps it is inexhaustible due to the supply of plastic objects in the world.

Louis Paramor

Louis Paramor, Studies for Boomtown, 2016, plastic, steel, wood


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